Drought challenges mounting for California farmers

October 26, 2015

drought_2398818bCalifornia farmers are leaving hundreds of thousands of acres unplanted and are spending million of dollars to access water during the ongoing drought. But, California growers are still reluctant to raise fruit and vegetable prices causing them to bear the blunt of the state’s water woes. [Wall Street Journal]

Statewide farmers will spend about $1.37 billion on pumping groundwater this year. In an average year, they spend about $780 million.

California farmers produce a majority share of several of the fruits and vegetables grown in the United States. Still, there has been little increase in U.S. produce prices this year.

Average retail prices for fresh fruit are down 3 percent this year and egetable prices are up 1 percent. Overall, U.S. food prices have increased by less than 2 percent.

“The improvement in pricing has not been anywhere close to the increase in raw input costs and the cost you get stranded with when you have such a large percentage of your land unplanted,” said Steve Hamm, controller for San Joaquin Valley grower Harris Farms.

Some California farmers have shifted from growing grains to producing fruits and vegetables. Grains are more water intensive.

Also, as U.S. farmers cut outputs, imports from Mexico, Chile and elsewhere increase impacting the state’s economy.

Within California, the drought is not impacting all farmers equally. Central Valley farmers have struggled more than coastal growers to cope with drought conditions.

Regions like the Salinas Valley have a more temperate climate and more access to water in local aquifers than areas like the San Joaquin Valley.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

“…Grains are more water intensive.” Actually, no they are not. The reason for the switch would be economics, ie higher prices for row crops than grains.

If the state is going to grow in population then the states leadership is charged with dealing with the increase. If they can’t they need to be replaced. Water has always been an issue in this state. California is for the most part a desert. Dry to the bone. We need to catch and store more water to meet the increase in population. We need more reservoirs. We need to build desalination plants. We need to get Sacramento back into the business of working for the best interest of the PEOPLE of California. All of the PEOPLE not just favored politically advantages groups.

Amen!!! Ask a tree hugger why or how about the Sierra Club?

No! The cost of new reservoirs and desalination, which might seem like an easy solution, will just add more supply to a broken, corrupt State Water Project system. if I’m a local farmer that’s tired of competing with multi-national, huge corporations for my entitlements (which may, or may not be delivered year to year), I’d rather have a check NOW and decide how to invest it in diversifying my future business.We should minimize the impact of the broken SWP system by buying back SWP entitlements and promoting local strategies for conservation and reclamation, then desalination of polluted wells and brackish water, then ocean desal as a last resort.

Also, it’s important for urban water users to assess where they are subsidizing Agriculture and whether that really makes sense. If Agriculture uses 80% of the resource, are they going to pay for 80% of the infrastructure improvements? No. Support Agriculture by supporting solutions that make sense, instead of empowering powerful political forces that are hijacking our water supply, hijacking the Delta and our fisheries, to put cash in their own pockets.

“… growers are reluctant to raise prices …”

Farmers are price takers, not price makers. The buyers set the price, and the farmer competes to see if he can produce something as cheaply as Mexico or Chile.

Jorge Estrada, what then is the way that you would suggest to deal with the drought? Who decides who gets what water? The guy with the deepest wells and largest pumps? What is fair?

Every farmer understands that there are bad years for a number of reasons. Now farmers are faced with bad government too. They now have to deal with government faking their ability to control hard times with a new level of governance. The drought has been gov’s excuse to create more regulatory employment and no product, typical for California.